When I say that the recent scholarship on teaching literature includes the most interesting and significant work currently going on in higher education, readers should know that I am (wildly!) indulging my own personal bias. But, at the same time, readers should also know that my enthusiasm does not come from naught. In other words, however I might overstate the case, the scholarship on teaching literature is blossoming in useful and, dare I say, beautiful ways. I recommend the following readings for those who teach literature in college:
1. Sheridan Blau’s The Literature Workshop: Teaching Texts and Their Readers (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2003). In my view, Blau’s The Literature Workshop stands in a class of its own. Winner of Conference on English Education’s 2004 Richard Meade Award. Incredibly practical and incredibly grounded in theoretical insights. Read this book. Read it more than once. Read it even if you don’t read anything else on this list. Read it even if you don’t teach literature, to see a model of how to think about teaching with depth and skill.
2. Robert Scholes’s work on teaching literature. Choose one or more of the following: Textual Power: Literary Theory and the Teaching of English (New Haven: Yale UP, 1985), The Rise and Fall of English: Reconstructing English as a Discipline (New Haven: Yale UP, 1998), The Crafty Reader (New Haven: Yale, 2001), or After the Fall: From Literature to Textuality (Iowa City: U of Iowa P, 2011), not to mention a number of important articles. Scholes has a way of seeing through How Things Have Always Been Done to get at What Actually Matters in teaching literature. He is most well known for The Rise and Fall of English. The most recent book, After the Fall, takes The Rise and Fall of English a few small but significant steps forward and represents his most advanced thinking on teaching to date. The Crafty Reader has an excellent long chapter on “Teaching Poetry.”
3. Gerald Graff’s work on higher education and English. Choose one or more of the following: Professing Literature: An Institutional History 20th Anniversary Ed. (Chicago: U Chicago P, 2007), Beyond the Culture Wars: How Teaching the Conflicts Can Revitalize American Education (New York: Norton, 1992), or Clueless in Academe: How Schooling Obscures the Life of the Mind (New Haven: Yale UP, 2003), not to mention a number of important articles. Though a dense read and not directly practical for teaching, Professing Literature puts literature’s intradisciplinary arguments into historical perspective, showing in detail how and when English departments went off track pedagogically. In Beyond the Culture Wars and Clueless in Academe, Graff argues, more poignantly and practically, for a way to get on track by getting students to participate in said arguments.
4. Articles. Read all three of the following: Gary Weissman’s “The Virtue of Misreadings: Interpreting ‘The Man in the Well'” (College English 73.1 : 28-49); Sherry Linkon’s “The Reader’s Apprentice: Making Critical Cultural Reading Visible” (Pedagogy 5.2 : 247-273); and Nancy L. Chick, Holly Hassel, and Aeron Haynie’s “‘Pressing an Ear against the Hive’: Reading Literature for Complexity” (Pedagogy 9.3 : 399-422 [PDF]). Stimulating, practical, and theoretically informed, these articles each propose specific and significant learning objectives for teaching literature and describe concrete pedagogical practices for helping students accomplish them. These three articles represent just a sample of the many excellent articles out there. I’ve justified including only these three on the list by indicating below that one should also browse the journals from which they come.
5. Journals. Browse and read selectively from the following: (a) Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition, and Culture, (b) College English, (c) Research in the Teaching of English, (d) Teaching English in the Two-Year College, and (e) Reader: Essays in Reader-Oriented Theory, Criticism, and Pedagogy. These journals regularly contain excellent work on teaching literature, especially Pedagogy.
6. More books on teaching literature. Choose one or more of the following: Elaine Showalter’s Teaching Literature (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003), Allen Carey-Webb’s Literature and Lives: A Response-Based, Cultural Studies Approach to Teaching English (Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English, 2001); Thomas Newkirk’s The Art of Slow Reading: Six Time-Honored Practices for Engagement (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2012); Mariolina Rizzi Salvatori and Patricia Donahue’s The Elements (and Pleasures) of Difficulty (White Plains, NY: Pearson/Longman, 2004); and Donald L. Finkel’s Teaching with Your Mouth Shut (Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook, 2000). Worthwhile books on teaching literature.
7. MLA’s series on teaching literature. Browse the titles in these series and read the ones on areas you teach: Approaches to Teaching World Literature and Options for Teaching. An impressive (even imposing) list of subject- (and author-) specific edited volumes, including, for example, Dianne F. Sadoff and William E. Cain’s Teaching Contemporary Theory to Undergraduates, Laird Christensen, Mark C. Long, Fred Waage’s Teaching North American Environmental Literature, and Nellie Y. McKay and Kathryn Earle’s Approaches to Teaching the Novels of Toni Morrison.
8. Internet resources. Browse the following: (a) the Annotated Bibliography on Teaching Literature by Laura Runge et al., (b) the lit bits blogs hosted by Bedford/St. Martin’s, and (c) the not-yet-fully-developed-but-promising Teaching College Literature: A Resource Guide.
9. Books on teaching and learning in higher education. Those who teach college literature should not just read about about teaching literature but also about teaching college. Some of the best work on teaching and learning transcends disciplines. See our core readings and more core readings for reading recommendations.
What other texts should be included on this list?
Add suggestions in the comments below or submit your recommendation(s) to the blog.
Thanks to Laura Runge for originally pointing me to more than one of the texts on this list.